This Saturday, Aug. 26, may be known as "Week 0" on the college football calendar, but it is a football Saturday nonetheless, with a slate of five games to open the 2017 season. That means that months of speculation and analysis is just about finished. It's time to go on the record with final national predictions before the first game kicks off.
Over the past couple weeks, Sports on Earth has broken down every conference race, including regular-season record projections derived from game-by-game predictions for all 130 teams. All of those conference previews can be found below, with predicted standings:
Now that we've projected how the regular season could play out, it's time to translate those results into a postseason picture with predictions for the playoff field, the rest of the New Year's Six bowl games and every other bowl matchup. Later this week, we'll make our national championship prediction and rank every team from 130 to 1.
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We're entering Year 4 of the College Football Playoff, meaning it's time for the semifinals to rotate back to their ideal locations and time: the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, on New Year's Day (a Monday).
Our game-by-game predictions produced four one-loss teams, making for a neat and tidy playoff field that would make things easy on the selection committee. Of course, it's probably not going to end up being so easy -- it's only a matter of time before the committee has to sort through a total mess, probably because of conference championship game upsets -- but however they get there, it's a realistic possible field: champions from the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. With apologies to the ACC, our projections see four two-loss teams in the league. Florida State can change that if its beats Alabama in Week 1, but someone has to get left out, and right now it's the ACC.
Here's our four, with No. 1 seed Alabama getting the geographic preference and the Rose Bowl thus landing its ideal traditional matchup. The winners meet on Monday, Jan. 8, in Atlanta.
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Four years ago, Oklahoma stunned Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, in a game that was a mere consolation after the Crimson Tide were knocked out of the BCS title chase because of the Kick Six. This time, it's a playoff semifinal with a spot in the national championship on the line. Our previews call for this to be the No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup, with Alabama the champion of the SEC and Oklahoma the champion of the Big 12. Alabama is obviously the safest bet in college football. It has made the playoff all three years, and it's a clear favorite to make it a fourth straight time. Oklahoma is seeking its second bid, this time under the leadership of new head coach Lincoln Riley. Riley was offensive coordinator when the Sooners lost to Clemson in a 2015 semifinal at the Orange Bowl.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): USC vs. Ohio State
Given the success that both teams have experienced, it seems shocking that they haven't met in the Rose Bowl since the 1984 season. That was the last of six Rose Bowl showdowns between the two over a 17-year period. Four of those games had national championship stakes, and this one would act as a playoff semifinal. It's the dream matchup for the Rose Bowl, which gets the best of both worlds in playing a role in the national title race while still keeping its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup. Ohio State, which won the first-ever playoff in 2014, is trying to bounce back from a humiliating semifinal shutout at the hands of Clemson after making the playoff despite not winning the Big Ten. This time, it's projected to be the Big Ten champion, meeting a USC team playing in its second straight Rose Bowl, only with a Pac-12 title and playoff stakes this time.
New Year's Six
The New Year's Six schedule was originally designed to have three major bowl games on Dec. 31 and three on Jan. 1. This year's lineup gets a different spin, partly because Dec. 31 is a Sunday, which is Week 17 in the NFL. Following the lead of last year's Orange Bowl -- played in prime time on Dec. 30 -- the Cotton Bowl moves up to prime time on Friday, Dec. 29. The Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl will be played on Saturday, Dec. 30, and the Peach Bowl will serve as an undercard to the playoff semifinals on Monday afternoon, Jan. 1.
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 29): Oklahoma State vs. Houston
South Florida seems to be the overwhelming favorite to earn the Group of Five's major bowl bid, but we picked Houston to take down the Bulls in the American championship game. That would put the Cougars in the driver's seat for a second major bowl bid in three years after winning the Peach Bowl in 2015. Oklahoma State draws an at-large bid as the Big 12 runner-up, with 10 wins. Perhaps the Cotton Bowl wouldn't be thrilled with getting the Group of Five team for the second year in a row -- Western Michigan lost to Wisconsin there last year -- but in this case, it's a local, alternate version of a Red River Rivalry. It's a Texas team from south of Dallas taking on an Oklahoma team from north of Dallas, setting the stage for a good atmosphere in AT&T Stadium.
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 30): Washington vs. Miami
In 2000, Washington cost Miami a shot at the national title with a win over the Hurricanes early in the season. In 1991, this was the national title game that never happened, as both teams finished undefeated and split the championship. There's some history between the two, and now Miami is trying to join Washington in reclaiming national relevance after years of trouble. Washington made its first major bowl appearance since 2000 last year, going to the playoff, and Miami is aiming for its first major bowl as a member of the ACC. The Hurricanes, of course, have a rough history at the Fiesta Bowl, with dramatic upset losses for the national championship to Penn State in 1986 and Ohio State in 2002.
Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): Florida State vs. Auburn
The Orange Bowl takes the ACC's top non-playoff team. Our projections have Florida State, the ACC champion, as the first team out of the playoff, so the Seminoles are locked into the Orange Bowl to take on the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten or SEC (or Notre Dame). Our previews have both Auburn and Penn State finishing 10-2, but the prediction is that, based on resumes, the committee would rank the Tigers above the Nittany Lions. That leads to a rematch of the 2013 season's national championship game, a showdown between the two teams that have the best chance of beating Alabama during the regular season -- FSU in the opener, Auburn in the late-November Iron Bowl.
Peach Bowl (Jan. 1): Clemson vs. Penn State
The Peach Bowl has been a second home for Clemson, with a record eight appearances. Penn State has never played in the game. The Nittany Lions and Tigers have met only once, a Clemson rout in the Citrus Bowl in 1987. Given the ACC and Big Ten tie-ins, this is also a possible Orange Bowl matchup, and it wouldn't be shocking to see it happen in the playoff, either. We have both at 10-2, though, creating an enticing major bowl matchup at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which happens to be the site of the national championship game one week later.
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Sadly, the Poinsettia Bowl has folded, leaving San Diego with only one bowl game and the entire bowl slate falling back to 39 games. That means there are 78 spots available for eligible teams, which reduces the likelihood that we'll see a repeat of last year, when 5-7 teams were needed to fill all the spots.
Bowl projections are based on 2017-18 conference tie-ins. The selection process is not as structured as it used to be: While some bowls are given selection preference, many matchups are now decided based on a variety of factors, including geography and whether a team has already played in a particular bowl recently.
Based on our predicted records, here are matchups for the 33 non-New Year's Six bowls:
New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16): UTSA vs. Appalachian State. UTSA makes its second straight bowl appearance in only its seventh year of football, while Appalachian State goes to New Orleans after two years of the Camellia Bowl for its first-ever bowl trips.
Cure Bowl (Dec. 16): Temple vs. Louisiana-Lafayette. The first of the three Orlando bowl games doesn't exactly draw the most appealing matchups: So far, it's featured San Jose State-Georgia State and UCF-Arkansas State.
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 16): UCLA vs. Boise State. Presumably Josh Rosen's final college game, against Brett Rypien and the Mountain West champion Broncos, who are also contenders for a New Year's Six spot.
New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 16): Colorado State vs. Louisiana Tech. Colorado State's last trip to the New Mexico Bowl was a memorable one, a 48-45 win over Washington State in 2013.
Camellia Bowl (Dec. 16): Western Michigan vs. Arkansas State. It's quite a step down from the Cotton Bowl for Western Michigan, but it's still a fourth straight bowl after going 1-11 in 2013.
Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 19): UCF vs. Florida Atlantic. If Lane Kiffin guides FAU to the postseason, it could be on the Owls' home field.
Frisco Bowl (Dec. 20): SMU vs. Oregon State. The former Miami Beach Bowl moves to Toyota Stadium in Frisco. Oregon State, projected to go 6-6, draws an at-large spot.
Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21): South Florida vs. Middle Tennessee. A great matchup -- AAC runner-up USF, projected to lose the conference title to Houston, and C-USA champion MTSU -- overshadowed by the St. Petersburg Bowl's new name: According to Brett McMurphy, it's the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 22): Miami (OH) vs. Southern Miss. Both have had winless seasons recently, but both have rebounded nicely and get rewarded with a tropical vacation.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 22): San Diego State vs. Ohio. Two consistent bowl teams under Rocky Long and Frank Solich each make their second December trip to the blue turf.
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23): Missouri vs. Tulsa. There's a Briles/Baylor influence on both offenses. Bet the over.
Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23): Colorado vs. Army. Army is locked into a trip to Fort Worth if it's bowl-eligible again, and it would give the Black Knights back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1984-85.
Dollar General Bowl (Dec. 23): Toledo vs. Troy. This would be Toledo's third postseason trip to Alabama in four years, while Troy would be making a repeat trip down the road to Mobile.
Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24): Hawaii vs. Memphis. Hawaii has played in eight bowl games since the turn of the century. One was the Sugar Bowl, the other seven were all on its home turf. If Hawaii is bowl-eligible, the Hawaii Bowl is always a safe bet.
Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26): Michigan State vs. Central Michigan. Detroit isn't exactly the most popular December vacation destination, so getting two in-state teams would work out well for the game at Ford Field. Central Michigan is swapped in as a replacement for the ACC, which has no teams available.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 26): BYU vs. Western Kentucky. With no bowl tie-in this year, BYU is just waiting for a vacancy to make a 13th straight postseason appearance.
Cactus Bowl (Dec. 26): Arizona State vs. TCU. In the past five years, Arizona State (2015) and TCU (2012) have both lost in this bowl game by one point.
Independence Bowl (Dec. 27): Texas A&M vs. Pittsburgh. This would be Texas A&M's second Independence Bowl trip since the fabulous Snow Bowl loss to Mississippi State in 2000.
Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27): Nebraska vs. Virginia Tech. The two previously met in the postseason in the Orange Bowl in 1996. Neither is especially local, but it would be an appealing matchup in the Bronx.
Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 27): Iowa vs. Washington State. A Big Ten West team (Minnesota) shut down the Cougars' Air Raid attack in a California bowl last year. Could it happen again?
Texas Bowl (Dec. 27): Arkansas vs. Baylor. The two former Southwest Conference rivals haven't met since Baylor's 9-5 win in 1991, the year before Arkansas joined the SEC.
Military Bowl (Dec. 28): Georgia Tech vs. Navy. The Paul Johnson Bowl: The current Georgia Tech coach directed the Midshipmen on this field in Annapolis from 2002-07.
Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28): Kansas State vs. Louisville. Preseason top-20 teams with sleeper conference title hopes have to settle for Orlando. Could this be Lamar Jackson's last college game?
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28): Northwestern vs. Oregon. The Ducks return to the postseason after last year's downfall. This would be Northwestern's first bowl trip to California since the improbable Rose Bowl run of 1995.
Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28): Stanford vs. Texas. The Alamo Bowl would undoubtedly love to get a resurgent Texas on the upswing under Tom Herman, and the home crowd that comes with it.
Belk Bowl (Dec. 29): Tennessee vs. North Carolina. The rematch of the infamous 2010 Music City Bowl that everyone's been waiting for.
Sun Bowl (Dec. 29): Utah vs. N.C. State. It would be a first-ever meeting, and also N.C. State's first-ever trip to the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Music City Bowl (Dec. 29): Minnesota vs. Kentucky. This sounds like a matchup that's happened in the Music City Bowl before, but they've never played each other. Minnesota made back-to-back trips in 2004-05, and Kentucky went to Nashville the next two years.
TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 30): Florida vs. Notre Dame. The former Gator Bowl has lost a lot of its former luster, so Florida-Notre Dame would be a dream matchup.
Liberty Bowl (Dec. 30): South Carolina vs. West Virginia. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp signed West Virginia quarterback Will Grier to play at Florida back in 2014.
Arizona Bowl (Dec. 30): Wyoming vs. Idaho. Idaho's last game as an FBS team before dropping to FCS involves defending Wyoming QB Josh Allen in presumably his final college game before turning pro.
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan vs. LSU. Despite the frequent SEC-Big Ten bowl showdowns over the years, Michigan and LSU have surprisingly never played each other.
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): Wisconsin vs. Georgia. Georgia has won both previous meetings, in the Outback Bowl. This time, the Big Ten and SEC title game losers meet in Orlando.